[EDITOR’S NOTEThe following is a Letter to the Editor, written and submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff.]

Dear Editor:

Burien’s homeless camp saga continues. It might be helpful to consider some facts.

First, let me say that homelessness alone is not a crime. Substance abuse alone is not a crime, but a health and personal problem. As of July 1, 2023, possession or public use of a controlled substance in WA is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail on the first two offenses and up to a year on the third arrest. Robbery, breaking in, and assault are felonies. When an addict or anyone else commits these, he/she has crossed the line into the criminal zone.

It is true that there is a lack of affordable housing in the Seattle metro area. However, there is a strong link between substance abuse and homelessness. A 2023 survey by the US Conference of Mayors together with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 68% of cities reported that substance abuse was the largest cause of homelessness among single adults. This survey found that:

  • Approximately 38% of all homeless people abuse alcohol
  • About 26% of all homeless people abuse other drugs

Alcohol is cheap. The relatively small percentage of hard drug users (that is opiates and methamphetamine) appear to be responsible for a lot of the crime arising from the encampments that have plagued us (shoplifting, break-ins, assault). There is a lot of repeat crime. Scott Lindsay (quoted in the KOMO 2019 documentary Seattle is Dying) did a study of Seattle repeat offenders and found that virtually all were homeless and hard drug abusers. The justice system has been booking them, sometimes keeping them in jail briefly for the assault, robbery, and shoplifting they commit to support their habit, then turning them back out on the streets where they continue to commit crimes again and again. 

To the addict, the instant high is more important than a place to live. They often refuse to accept living in shelters where they will be under strict observation and will not be allowed drugs or alcohol. Note that 40% of the unsheltered in the greater Seattle are living in vehicles rather than in tents, according to City of Seattle statistics.

The only publicly-funded involuntary residential rehab system in the state is run by the WA State Department of Corrections. Its Substance Abuse Recovery Unit is one of the largest certified treatment agencies in Washington, with services in 25 state-certified facilities located within prisons and reentry centers. 

Note that the hospital “psych ward” can only hold those who are a danger to themselves and others without their consent for 72 hours before releasing them. 

Rehab usually involves the administrations of the FDA-approved drugs methadone, suboxone, or vivitrol used to successfully withdraw addicts from heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. These meds are opioid blockers. These are combined with group and individual counselling. The opioid addict may well need to take one of these prescribed meds for the rest of his/her life.

Unfortunately, there are no known meds that facilitate getting off methamphetamine or for that matter alcohol. Meth is not physically addictive, but can result in death. Only counselling has been found effective so far. 

The good news is that Washington has a publicly funded residential rehab system. The bad news is that you have to be convicted and go to prison in order to enter it. Note that drug rehab is not the only program offered in WA prisons; there are also basic education and job skills training. Washington has expanded its re-entry program for prisoners in recent years as well to provide sustained follow-up for released prisoners. 

I could not find statistics on relapses for those who completed prison rehab. However, the 2023 overall three-year recidivism rate in WA is 30.7%. That is, 30.7% of released prisoners end up back in prison within three years. The recidivism rate among the states ranges from the low of South Carolina at 21% to the high of Alaska at 61.6%.

We need intelligent laws together with intelligent prosecution and intelligent policing to get the result we need. When crimes are committed, we need to prosecute. We might revise the laws that now limit involuntary detention in a hospital to 72 hours. And we might also spend more on the front end so we do not have to spend it on the back end.

As an officer in my condo HOA, I have had to deal with homeless drug user issues in my neighborhood and our building has been broken into twice so this is not theoretical for me.

Very truly yours,
Claire Yurdin

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Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

9 replies on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘Burien’s homeless camp saga continues. It might be helpful to consider some facts.’”

  1. What i see is some people in burien don’t like low income or homeless people and tend to blame and accuse any one in burien that has under a million dollars as a problem in burien. You need to grow up stop acting as baby’s that can’t their way. Their maybe a few with in the group of homeless people causing some issues but not all of them.

  2. Good Letter. Clearly on point. We must not continue to disable valuable human resources by ignoring alcohol and drug addiction. Public resources must be provided to improve the current situation or it will continue to get worse.
    Public education must teach the joy and rewards of contributing to the health of the overall community.
    When one contributes, one gains self worth.

  3. The author is sort of on the right track but they play fast and loose with statistics. There is no way that only 38% of homeless persons abuse alcohol. Who is taking these surveys and it is no wonder they are lied to all the time. The PNW keeps elected the same officials that gave them this problem. The citizens do not have the will to do what it will take to fix the problems. It will continue to get worse and worse and worse.

  4. A terrific fact-filled letter. A note about “psych wards”: in truly professionally-run psych wards, many drug abusers consent to continued hospitalization beyond the 72 hours to have their detox continue. In contrast, where the goal is to discharge the indigent Medicaid patients ASAP to maximize bed space for private pay patients, a good patient-focused result does not occur. This is our precise situation in King County. This past week the New York Times reported the public hospital Bellevue in New York City does the same thing to maximize revenue from weight-loss surgery, preserving those high-paying surgical beds that make incentive bonus payments to taxpayer-salaried physicians, as Harborview does.

  5. I don’t now if it is possible or legal, but I think we need a mandintory drug reabilitation to make the choice for them sense they can’t on their own. It is a disease and they need our help or the problem will never go away!!!! Thank you.

  6. The university of Chicago found that roughly 50% of homeless individuals have jobs. This fact probably doesn’t fit into your neat little narrative about homelessness being caused by drug use.

    This is not a simple problem and there are no simple fixes. Lock em up is not a solution.

    The simple truth is that homelessness has many causes, and most of them are the result of society wide failures. A small city like Burien – or even a big city like Seattle – is not going to be able to fix all the problems in America, and certainly not quickly.

    What I am saying is that solving homelessness is going to take a huge, national, sustained, multi decade effort. But no one wants to hear that. They just want quick fixes. And when someone like you calls for more incarceration, all you are really saying is that you want the unhoused to be someone else’s problem. You want it swept under the rug so you don’t see it.

  7. Just who are you pointing your finger at again??
    Drug abuse is a very broad-based societal issue, not exclusive to our unhoused population.
    Just ask the federal government.
    (https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/01/04/samhsa-announces-national-survey-drug-use-health-results-detailing-mental-illness-substance-use-levels-2021.html)
    These statistics point out that among our homeless population, there are a few dozen with substance use disorder in our city, but a whopping 8,250 are housed citizens of Burien with substance use disorder. Let’s get to the point, the vast majority of abuse issues are by a very significant amount among those living in homes.

  8. Claire Yurdin says: “Scott Lindsay did a study of Seattle repeat offenders and found that virtually all were homeless and hard drug abusers”

    The study mentioned didn’t use a random sample of repeat offenders but cherry picked a set of 100 individuals so it is impossible to claim that almost all repeat offenders in Seattle are homeless and hard drug abusers. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

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